For the most part, candidates shine on issues

I feel I owe the community some clarification. First, it was not my intent to inquire how Dianne Wyntjes voted over the past 10 years, but rather how she leans politically.

I feel I owe the community some clarification. First, it was not my intent to inquire how Dianne Wyntjes voted over the past 10 years, but rather how she leans politically.

I should have dropped the word “supported,” which was taken to mean “voted for.” I apologize for that, however, many have since indicated that they too are interested in the political philosophy and leanings of our civic candidates.

One helpful person suggested I might have framed the question more to my intent: Would you describe yourself politically as: right-of-centre, left-of-centre or a centrist? Much better.

Secondly, please remember I am a columnist, not an investigative reporter. Reporters need to be unbiased. Columnists write to advance ideas and personal opinions, which are by definition humanly biased. I’m trying to reflect a community snapshot of our local campaign.

I sent out a questionnaire to each of the candidates for mayor and council requesting responses on numerous local issues, including: policing, consultants, bike paths, public-private capital partnerships, a new city hall, concert hall, museum and 50-metre pool, snow removal, a ring road, emergency services, the budget, general campaign efforts and qualifications for elected office.

All candidates returned submissions, except Clarence Torgerson, whom I personally called to confirm receipt of the questionnaire.

All of the candidates’ responses have been posted, unedited as received, on the library’s election website: electionforum.ca. I encourage all to visit and review the responses, as they offer detailed insight to our civic candidates, their positions and philosophies.

First off, the one candidate who clearly emerged as most insightful, clearest on the issues, and hardest-working in the exercise was Tara Veer.

Not only was her submission the longest (14 pages, compared to an average of six, and a low of two), but her responses revealed a significant depth of understanding, innovation and clarity of thought unmatched by any other candidate.

Of the non-incumbents, the two who revealed themselves to rival Veer in effort, insight, and substantive contribution were TerryLee Ropchan (12 pages) and Dianne Wyntjes (10 pages).

Many of the questions required some research to be adequately answered. Ropchan and Wyntjes both evidenced the ability to dig, define, examine from all sides, and innovate. Both showed greater depth and substance than their brochures or websites alone reflect.

On the issue of “Municipal versus RCMP” police force, Buck Buchanan, Jeffrey Dawson, Gail Parks, TerryLee Ropchan and Tara Veer all called for some form of dual or hybrid system, whereby the city takes over front-line response policing, and contracts the RCMP for more quasi-federal issues like drugs, intelligence and street gangs.

On the role of consultants in civic decision-making, most candidates acknowledged they are sometimes needed, but question the city’s perceived over-reliance on them.

Ropchan additionally noted that when consultants are brought in from out of Red Deer, they often lack an organic understanding of our community, as in the 2005 Special Gathering Places Study, which recommended phasing out equestrian programming from Heritage Ranch, later rejected.

Gail Parks noted that she successfully pressed council and administration to bring city planning in-house, and would continue to press for in-house counsel, rather than contracted legal services.

With respect to public-private-partnerships (also known as PPPs or P3s), candidates were split on the issue. Most favoured examining a form of partnership with the private sector to build some of the city’s capital infrastructure that has recently been pushed out beyond the 10-year mark.

Jason Chilibeck, Dawson, Paul Harris, Parks, Ropchan and Calvin Yzerman all identified one or another local project that might be considered for P3 build out, including: city hall, a concert hall and a 50-metre pool.

Ropchan noted that the federal government has established a dedicated P3 office and a $1.25-billion public-private partnership fund to support innovative P3 projects.

Frank Wong indicated that Calgary and Edmonton school boards would have 12 to 14 fewer elementary schools under construction were it not for the P3 model, but all candidates noted that projects must be evaluated on a case-by-case basis.

Wyntjes did an excellent job of defining P3s and some of the controversy surrounding them. Neither she, nor incumbent Cindy Jefferies, nor Jim Watters are fans of these partnerships.

Most candidates indicated the city simply can’t afford a new cultural arts/concert hall, though Wyntjes noted that a dedicated space would be a great asset, would draw citizens together and would pull in tourism, while Paul Harris committed to finding a way for the city to “plan for, fund, and build a cultural, arts, heritage centre.”

Almost all candidates supported reviewing the budget process to include a detailed examination of and debate over the base budget. Parks noted that council only reviewed and debated approximately five per cent ($11.2 million) of the city’s 2010 operating budget of $233 million.

Incumbents Lynne Mulder, Jefferies and Mayor Flewwelling indicated a satisfaction with the status quo, though Mulder did note she was open to “new ideas.”

Most candidates indicated they had looked at the city’s 2010 operating and capital budgets, but less than a handful of the non-incumbents actually evidenced any real effort or familiarity with either, being: Chilibeck, Dawson, Penko and Chris Stephan, who noted he’s “carefully reviewed the city’s budgets and annual reports going back to 2005.”

The questionnaire was a most valuable exercise that can’t possibly be well captured in one not-so-brief column.

It’s certainly worthy of a few minutes online before casting your votes on Monday.

Go to www.electionforum.ca/questionnaire to see it.

We do expect incumbents to shine and, for the most part, they did.

Freelance columnist Vesna Higham is a local lawyer and former Red Deer city councillor.

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